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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


Winemaker Michael Bucholz greeted me at the historic Bergkelder cellars and visitor centre, home to Fleur du Cap, which is one of the premium brands owned by the giant Distell company. As a group, Distell only buys or grows around 20% of its production requirement as grapes, the rest they buy as wine. Such an enormous producer suffered badly when howling winds swept through Stellenbosch in November 2009, and Michael estimates they and their suppliers may have lost up to 50% of the crop.

Michael says that as part of a big group there's a whole team of viticulturists, but that doesn't stop the company from experimenting and developing: "Around 15 years ago we started paying a lot more attention to temperatures in vineyards by sinking temperature gauges into all of our sites. This helped develop micro-climate maps that show us which sites are ideal for varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc for example, where the pyrozenes that give the green herbal zing do not 'boil off'." Innovation is witnessed as Distell has continued to open up new areas with the first vine plantings after this exercise.

In tiny areas where the temperature mapping showed blue dots, little cool-spots were identified where Sauvignon and similar cool-climate loving varieties can flourish and give interesting flavours, like in coastal Darling and down in Cape Aghuilas too, the most southerly point in South Africa "where you can stand in the vineyard and almost touch the sea," according to Michael. (Photo courtesy SA Times).

Fleur du Cap's wines

UK Agent is Waverly, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Chenin Blanc 2009
Nice green apple fruit, quite bold and a touch of leesy weight. Quite mouth-filling wine, with weight and texture, a lot of apple tang and a pithy lemon dryness in the finish. Tangy and satisfying. 86/100.

Unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Nicely herby, leafy green aromatics. Passionfruit and that elderflower, typically slightly sweaty character. The palate has lots of grapefruity and lemony tang, a nice texture and some orange fruit on the mid palate. A nicely styled wine. 86/100

Unfiltered Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc 2009
From Aughulis and Luttesville fruit, selected for this cuvee. A riper style here, with less of the pyrozene green character, though there's still a more subtle green bean undertow. The palate has a real tang, with a juicy orange and quite fat lemony acidity, plenty of bite but texture too. 88/100.

Unfiltered Viognier 2009
Real honey and glycerine lemon nose, with nice apricot fruit and a touch of herby lift. The palate has nicely punchy fruit, the lemony character coming through, with a certain fat and weight of nectarine skins, but although quite big (15%ABV) it doesn't really flesh out and moves into an acid, citrus phase fairly abruptly. A clean style and a good wine. 86/100.

Unfiltered Semillon 2009
Lemony nose with just a hint of toast and seeds, but quite neutral. The palate has a big, clean lemony breadth - it is textural and quite weighty despite being citrusy, but has a freshening character in the finish that makes it tasty, if slightly one-dimensional. 86/100.

Unfiltered Limited Release Special Blend 2009
Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon and Chardonnay in equal parts. Quite a subtle oak character, with some of the Viognier perfume coming through, but again the focus is on lemon and lime freshness and this does have a nice layering of flavours, the medium-bodied texture filling in with a lot of pithy tang on the finish. 89/100.

Unfiltered Chardonnay 2009
Nice oak quality, though the oak is fairly prominent (14 months in barrel) and possibly too much so. The palate is really quite juicy, the bright apple and lemon fruit tangy, just a hint of more tropical fruit, a pineapple sweetness to the fruit showing more on the finish (though the wine is dry), the oak just adding a vanilla creaminess but bright citrusy acidity. 87/100.

Pinotage 2008
"If you look after Pinotage and treat it nicely it will reward you with a lovely wine, but if you don't it will turn around and bite you. With a cab or merlot you can lose a poor wine in the blend, but my God, not with bad Pinotage," says Michael Bucholz. Bold black cherry and smoky spiciness. The palate has juicy, mouth-filling black fruit with plenty of enjoyment in the glass. Tasty and beautifully made stuff. 87/100.

Unfiltered Merlot 2008
Big, chocolaty, rich style of Merlot, with plummy black fruit. The palate has a dryness on the mid-palate, a touch of over-extraction possibly, but then it becomes quite juicy in the finish again, with cherry and that black chocolate richness making it chewy and tasty. 86/100.

Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Quite a dense nose, with slightly muddy black fruit quality perhaps, not quite singing with a cassis clarity. A touch of smoky oak. On the palate nice and savoury, the black fruit bold and chewy, slightly dry on the mid palate, but again that juiciness and vitality re-emerges on the finish, making it quite juicy and chewy. 87/100.

Laszlo 2004
Blend of components from the best barrels, usually Cabernet or Merlot based, but not necessarily a Bordeaux blend. Named after Dr Laszlo, who fled from Romania, and established the Fleur de Cap cellar. Hugely ripe and rich nose, flooded with ripe black fruit and chocolate, a certain coffee bean darkness, but really about the plummy, maybe very slightly baked fruit. Big and juicy on the palate, with lots of chewy, quite dry tannins still and a real richness and plushness. A huge mouthful, crying out for a juicy steak. 88/100.

Laszlo 2006
Not made in every vintage, so no 2005 for example. A lot more sweet, coconutty oak character, almost a mint humbug character. The palate is still quite tight and tannic and dry, with lots of dense black fruit in there, but this needs a few years to loosen up. Potentially a better wine than the 2004 however. 90/100.

Noble Late Harvest 2009
243g/l of residual sugar. Chenin Blanc. Nicely smoky nose, with lots of orange peel and marmalade, the honey and barley sugar botrytis coming through. Big, intensely sweet palate, with the glycerine and honey coating the mouth, with nicely creamy texture and sweet, rich apricot fruit. Lots of fruit, with vital, zesty orange and retaining really good acidity. 89/100.

return to South Africa 2010